Meeting Spaces Evolve to Accommodate Hybrid Work Demands

Seating area with couches and chairs

Skift Take

In a world where the word pivot took on new dimensions two years ago, the concept of hybrid meetings has followed suit. Investment in new technology and flexible spaces allows venues to host attendees from anywhere, putting fuel back into the tank of an events industry that needs it. 

As the line between business and leisure continues to blur, meetings adapt. In-person attendees want to add time onto the beginning or end of the trips to have some fun with colleagues they only know from the shoulders up.

In a world where the word pivot took on new meaning two years ago, the concept of hybrid meetings has also evolved. Preferences and meeting sizes are all over the map, so venues invest in new technology and flexible spaces. The key is hosting attendees in style as they connect with each other and with remote colleagues.

Destination Advantage

The ability to move indoors and out for work and fun has been advantageous for destinations like the Hyatt Regency Grand Reserve in Puerto Rico, said Nereida Amador, director of sales and marketing. 

 Instead of being stuck in a windowless conference room, guests can collectively crunch numbers from the beach, in gardens, private villas, and an Old San Juan-style courtyard. In addition, the property’s main ballroom, which holds up to 800 guests, now includes a video mapping wall that offers an immersive audiovisual experience and helps connect with remote participants. The ultimate game-changer is simply bringing in-person and online attendees together, says Amador.

 “The range of things to do for team-building on-site and off-site, the direct flights, and the ease of getting here with no passport means I’m competing with markets I never did before — and I’m winning them,” she said.

Flexible Ballroom Configurations

Virtual innovation has augmented physical options at Harrah’s Atlantic City with modular walls ensuring flexible configurations of its two largest ballrooms. Flexibility is increasingly important, with groups booking later and attendance numbers shifting until the last minute.

High-Tech Working Spaces

Would-be attendees often have to cancel due to the skyrocketing volume of flight cancellations, delays, or illness, said Blair McSheffrey, vice president of global and hotel sales for Sonesta International Hotels Corporation. In response to these travel challenges, the company is introducing a new meeting space concept called Work Suite. The idea combines traditional office and co-working space with hotel amenities. It accommodates groups of up to 50 people who can work and socialize in various setups featuring high-resolution screens and fully integrated cameras and audio. Seating arrangements include a “work zone” with heads-down desk space, while lounge furniture encourages collaboration. Reservations can be made instantly online, and the rooms are booked by the hour. The concept has been rolled out at its Sonesta Irvine property in Irvine, California, with more openings planned for 2023. For more complex hybrid AV concepts, Sonesta offers a Hybrid Concierge service through a partnership with Redstone Agency

Intimate and Fun Spaces

At the Kimpton Cardinal Hotel, sales leaders say several factors contribute to smaller group sizes, including budget. For example, many companies are looking to reduce travel spending due to the increasing cost of plane tickets. On the plus side, smaller groups make additional equipment investment more accessible, said Dana Williams, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing.

One solution implemented at the property is a new Meeting Owl system which costs around $1,000. While the setup wouldn’t work for a space intended for hundreds, it works well for smaller groups in Kimpton’s historic Art Deco building. Smaller groups can also reserve what Williams calls the “adult playland” space for private buyouts to shoot hoops, play ping-pong or foosball, or even scoot down a twisty water slide. 

Locations like those are among the most sought-after by her clients, said certified meeting planner Ana Carolina Villar. “Spaces and venues that are fun and unique help attendees have a sense of place,” said the founder of Massachusetts-based Conative TIME. “Venues with story and character that don’t require much decoration are prime locations for many companies.” 

Cory Elford, the director of marketing for Meeting Professionals International, also notes a recent spike in requests for the inclusion of greenery and natural light — further blurring the lines between the indoors and outdoors and where people work and play.

Broadcast Lounges

The newly opened Hyatt Regency Salt Lake City, a 700-room hotel with impressive views of the mountains, features the first Hyatt Regency Broadcast Lounge concept. In addition, the hotel’s prime location — directly adjoining Salt Palace Convention Center — means meeting attendees are more connected to work.

The Broadcast Lounge features flat-screen displays for simulcasting. The small lounge is set up like a cafe, with self-serve pantries stocked with snacks and beverages. There are also flexible, moveable walls or curtains that can be drawn for privacy.

All signs in the meetings industry point to a dwindling line between downtime and uptime when it comes to hybrid working. As a result, venues are finding different ways to exploit their unique locations and use technology to make their space offerings more capable and flexible.